WASHINGTON (April 12, 2018)—The House Agriculture Committee today introduced a farm bill that overhauls the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—by adding short-sighted and draconian new work requirements. The proposal disregards the USDA’s own ample evidence of SNAP’s success and would effectively remove access to a critical safety net for millions of vulnerable people, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
“House Republicans have written this farm bill in bad faith,” said Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “SNAP is a proven success story, and one of the best investments we can make to reduce poverty and hunger and put money back into struggling local economies. Piling on work requirements will do nothing to address the underlying reasons why people rely on the program, and will leave millions of people—including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities in communities across the country—hungry.”
In 2016, the program lifted 3.6 million people out of poverty, and provided many with temporary assistance between jobs or in crisis. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP—and because many workers turn to SNAP when they are between jobs, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving benefits.
The bill released today adds new work requirements for older participants (ages 50-59) and changes the way work requirements are enforced. Under current guidelines, able-bodied adults without dependents must participate in a job training program or work for at least 80 hours per month, within three months of receiving benefits. Under the new proposal, this population is expanded to include caregivers of children over six, and would have to work at least 20 hours each week within a month’s time to avoid harsh penalties: a single “violation” would make a participant ineligible to receive benefits for a full year.
None of this will help people secure well-paying work, particularly in places where jobs are already hard to come by. Nearly 40 percent of Americans looking for work last year were unable to find jobs over a periods of 15 weeks or longer. Moreover, the proposed program overhauls target a relatively small population: only 6.5 percent of all current SNAP recipients are both required to work and are unemployed at any given time. Moreover, these new proposals are likely to increase administrative costs, which now are exceptionally low—at less than seven percent of all program expenses.
“No person should have to go hungry in 2018,” said Salvador. “Yet low wages, stagnant economies—especially in rural communities—and a lack of healthy and affordable food options in many neighborhoods have left millions struggling to put food on the table. This is especially and ironically true for many workers who produce, process, and prepare our food. Until we address the root causes of poverty and exploitation, we must provide a meaningful safety net.”
Even beyond SNAP, there are few bright spots in today’s bill. While the bill maintains funding for key agricultural research programs, it largely fails to take on provisions of the Local FARMS Act, a bipartisan proposal meant to chip away at the 15.6 million US households that lack adequate access to healthy food while helping small and midsize farmers secure a steady demand for the food they produce. By overlooking the Local FARMS Act, the authors of today’s bill are bypassing an opportunity to create jobs, establish reliable revenue streams for struggling farmers, and increase access to healthy and affordable food, especially for low-income Americans.
The bill also cuts funding for programs that help farmers protect their soil and water and better prepare for floods and droughts also take cuts in the bill, with the very popular Conservation Stewardship Program eliminated.